An unprecedented effort to award roughly $235 million in grants to North and South Omaha is expected to help reverse generations economic and social distress exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shown here is North Omaha’s 24th and Lake Streets intersection looking south. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)
OMAHA — With the heaviest legislative lifting behind them, key Nebraska lawmakers and Gov. Pete Ricketts gathered Thursday away from the State Capitol, on community turf where a $335 million recovery plan is to turn into action.
Meeting at a site in North Omaha, the public officials led a celebratory bill-signing event kicking off what Sen. Justin Wayne called the “real work” that will bring to life the Economic Recovery Act.
Also known as Legislative Bill 1024, the act initially focused on North Omaha, then added South Omaha and ultimately included other low-income census tracts in the state that were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Ricketts called the package “historic landmark legislation” and said Nebraska can’t be healthy if certain ZIP codes aren’t reaping the same success as others.
“That bill will have generational impact,” said Ricketts. “It will invest in affordable housing, infrastructure, crime prevention, financial literacy, job training, education — all the things that go into making sure we are developing the full talent of all of our people here in the state of Nebraska.”
Much of the $335 million — about $250 million — will come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Wayne, who led the push for the legislation along with State Sen. Terrell McKinney, also of North Omaha, called Thursday a time to reflect on decades of neglect and also to recognize past leaders who paved the way.
He said that while historic, the occasion was “a little scary” because of the work ahead that could transform communities.
“The real work is just beginning,” he said at the event held at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha Campus.
Business park is one piece
State Sens. Tony Vargas and Mike McDonnell, both of South Omaha, also were recognized as co-sponsors of the legislation and were among the public officials greeting about 50 community representatives.
A special legislative committee soon will begin to seek proposals for efforts aimed at creating economic opportunities and improving the targeted census tracts, which largely are in North and South Omaha.
Also addressing the group was Osie Combs Jr., chief executive of Pacific Engineering, who plans to expand his Lincoln-area company on a future business park near Eppley Airfield in North Omaha. The park is one economic development piece that is to receive a financial boost through the recovery act.
Combs, a retired Navy rear admiral, said he wants to work with local officials on an apprenticeship program to help build his workforce. He hopes to bring at least 50 jobs to the business park.
“We accept this baton to move forward,” said Combs.
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